In the midst of my ongoing health struggles, I have been reflecting much on Psalm 73. This is a psalm that I have always particularly loved, but I have come to see how truly wonderful and precious it is during the course of my own personal suffering. My intention in this post is not to provide an exhaustive exposition of this psalm but simply to offer a few thoughts that given me much hope over the last few weeks.
In the first three verses, the psalmist writes:
Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
The difficulty that the psalmist faced was clearly not one of physical affliction but rather emerged from his observations of the apparent success and wellbeing of the unrighteous that surrounded him. Nevertheless, the personal crisis that the psalmist recounts is one with which I can readily identify: God is good to the pure in heart, but as for me, my feet had almost stumbled. The crisis that the psalmist experienced was a crisis of faith, a crisis on account of which he found himself only within a hairsbreadth of turning his back on God. The resultant fear, of course, is what would have been the consequence of this? Would the God who is good to those who are pure in heart then turn his own back on the psalmist whose heart was faltering? Does God abandon those who abandon him? Does he let go of those who fall away? Does this ultimately mean that we are ultimately thrown back on ourselves to ensure that we remain in right standing with God?
After the various twist and turns of his inner turmoil and doubt, we see that the psalmist finally reaches a turning point. In verses 21-26 he writes:
When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
This is incredibly comforting! Even when his soul was embittered, when he was no better than a brutish and ignorant beast, the psalmist realises that nevertheless he was still continually with God because it was God who was holding his right hand. Although he was about to slip, God was holding him firmly in place. Although he was about to abandon God, God never abandoned him. He felt himself losing his grip on God, but even then he was firmly enfolded and grasped by the mighty hand of God. How great indeed is the faithfulness of our God that he remains faithful even when we are faithless!
The phrase that has particularly ministered to me, however, is the final one quoted above: my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. I have personally experienced this recently. I have felt the pain and weakness of failing flesh. I have lost heart in the face of suffering. But I can testify that God has truly been the strength of my heart and my portion. When I say this, I do not mean it in some kind of abstract or metaphorical way. I mean that when I read this psalm in light of the coming of Christ, I realize how true this is in a very literal sense. God will always be the strength of my failing flesh because he himself has taken on my flesh in Jesus Christ! Jesus is the one who, clothed in human flesh just like mine, endured the darkness and despair of death itself. On the cross, it was a heart like mine that was pierced with the soldier’s spear. And it was this same Jesus who, three days later, rose from death to the power of an indestructible life. The flesh and the heart that he now bears as he sits in glory at the right hand of the Father are no longer subject to weakness, decay, or death. Inasmuch as I know that all of this Christ has done for me, not at a distance, so to speak, but by wearing my very flesh, by representing me and substituting himself in my place, I can truly say that God himself will be the strength of my heart and my portion forever in Jesus Christ. I know this not in a theoretical way; I know it because I see Jesus! As Paul said in Romans 6:5-10:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.
This is truly gospel, truly good news. Jesus is indeed the hope of my failing flesh, because he has taken it into union with himself, brought it through death, and raised it up to unending life. Insofar as I see Christ’s humanity as vicariously lived, crucified, resurrected and ascended for me, I have hope for my own.